DRUMHELLER, Alta. — Canadian consumers tend to base grocery buying decisions on price, but a small, growing number are seeking other attributes, such as local production and environmental sustainability.
Consumer surveys also show more are worried about climate change but feel they may be able to help curb it in some small way. That may mean cutting out red meat without knowing much about livestock production, said Jeffrey Fitzpatrick-Stilwell, sustainability manager for North America, McDonald’s.
“I think they are worried about everything and climate change is a nice way to bucket people’s concerns about everything that is going on,” he said during a consumer panel at the recent Canadian Angus Association annual meeting held in Drumheller, Alta.
The corporation has added the Canadian Round Table for Sustainable Beef certification logo to its Angus burgers and found many McDonald’s customers are aware of it.
McDonald’s also launched its Not without Canadian Farmers campaign to remind its three million daily visitors that the company sources almost everything it sells from Canadian producers. Adding a logo further builds the brand.
Certification is important but most consumers have no idea how coffee, fish or forest sustainability programs work. They see the logo on the package and think everything is good, said Fitzpatrick-Stilwell.
“When people see a logo they assume there is some kind of verification,” said Greg Nolan of Artisan Foods, a meat company based in Toronto that offers third party verification and full traceability on its products.
The company offers 10 different product lines and the beef is found at Whole Foods, Friendly Butcher, Hello Fresh, online meal kit companies and some restaurants.
Most of the product lines are based on Angus cattle.
“Eighty percent of what we sell is Angus beef. It is not something we have necessarily driven. The marketplace has driven it for us,” he said.
The company has developed a purchase grid where premiums are paid for specific attributes like quality and yield grades. Most Artisan Meats customers want AAA or Prime grade and a rib eye of 13 to 14 sq. inches from a carcass of 825 pounds. The average in Canada is closer to 925 lb. Yield grade four or five cattle are hard to handle and few customers want that much fat.
They find a three-quarter Angus and quarter Simmental steer yields better and still grades AAA.
These demands should be a red flag to the industry that meat companies want more marbling and higher yielding cattle for domestic and export sales.
“In the Toronto market, AAA is the new AA and Prime is the new AAA. It has to be AAA or higher. Prime grade is sold out all the time and we can’t get enough in the marketplace,” Nolan said.